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To Catch a Thief
Release Date(s)1955 (March 6, 2012)
According to the old proverb, "it takes a thief to catch a thief." Often, it takes a serious artist to create the most seemingly lightweight of confections. And such was the case with Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 To Catch a Thief, which has just made its splendid premiere on Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment.
The director surrounded himself with the typical array of familiar faces. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes returned from the previous year's Rear Window; director of photography Robert Burks was Hitchcock's preferred man for the job since 1951's Strangers on a Train. The dashing Cary Grant, the eponymous thief - or one of them, at least - had first worked with the director in 1941's Suspicion. Grace Kelly made her third consecutive appearance in one of Hitchcock's films.
Based on David Dodge's novel, the perennially suave Grant is John Robie, the retired thief once known as The Cat. When a crime wave hits the French Riviera, Robie must prove his innocence by catching the newest fellow who has followed in his footsteps. Grace Kelly is Frances Stevens, a wealthy American abroad who soon crosses paths with the dashing Cat and believes him guilty. There's more than one meaning to the film's title: sure, Robie must catch the thief. But will Frances Stevens catch John Robie?
The locale gives Hitchcock plenty of opportunity to dazzlingly film the lush landscapes of the Cote d'Azur, especially as the picture was originally shot in Paramount's widescreen Vista Vision process. But he gives similarly loving attention to his photogenic stars. There's palpable delight as Grant and Kelly savor John Michael Hayes' dialogue, which is surprisingly risqué by 1955 standards. Kelly proves her mettle as a quintessential Hitchcock Blonde (in a line also including Janet Leigh, Kim Novak and even America's sweetheart, Doris Day) as her icy-cool Frances Stevens seduces Robie with, what else, valuable jewels. As the love scene progresses, Hitchcock can't help but make one of his least subtle cinematic jokes by intercutting the scene with exploding fireworks! It isn't all smoldering passions, though. Jessie Royce Landis steals as many scenes as possible as Stevens' mother, and Hayes and Hitchcock even give her the "last laugh" on John and Frances as the film comes to its conclusion.
No classic Hitchcock film is complete without a set piece of some kind, and here, it's an elaborate masquerade ball sequence. It's the culmination of the virtual fashion parade for the future Princess Grace, who wears no less than ten costumes in the film, all designed by Hollywood's reigning doyenne of dress, Edith Head. Though her masquerade dress is more outrageously elaborate, the relatively simple blue chiffon gown worn by Stevens in her first encounter with Robie is the most memorable, epitomizing the character's chillier qualities.
Throughout, To Catch a Thief is a light and altogether stylish comic soufflé, with a healthy dollop of suspense and even some social commentary. After all, Hitchcock and Hayes ask, who is the real predator? They don't shy away from the correlation between sex and money, but never at the expense of wit and entertainment. At 107 minutes, it's all taken at a fairly brisk clip. To Catch a Thief is far-removed from the director's excursions into the macabre, and Hitchcock himself asserted to Francois Truffaut that the film "wasn't meant to be taken seriously." Thankfully, Paramount hasn't adhered to the director's dictum. The new Blu-ray release treats the film like a crown jewel in the studio's library.
The beautiful location photography has always been chief among the film's charms, although perfectionist Hitchcock wasn't even satisfied with those: "[Since] I hate royal blue skies, I tried to get rid of the Technicolor blue for the night scenes. So we shot with a green filter to get the dark slate blue, the real color of night, but it still didn't come out as I wanted it." Though Hitchcock wasn't thrilled with the film's final colors, you likely will be, thanks to the fine and detailed transfer. The hues are varied and frequently sparkling, as in the masquerade and flower market sequences, not to mention those fireworks! Grain is minimal. The BD offers a Dolby TrueHD stereo track (2.0) as well as Dolby TrueHD mono. Dolby Digital Mono tracks are also available in French, Spanish and Portuguese, with subtitles offered in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Lyn Murray's musical score isn't one of the most memorable in the Hitchcock canon but is well presented here.
The plentiful bonus features duplicate those found on the previous DVD edition, part of Paramount's 2009 Centennial Collection. That 2009 DVD was itself based on the 2007 edition, replacing Laurent Bouzereau and Peter Bogdanovich's commentary with that of Dr. Drew Casper and adding three bonus features as well as upgraded picture and sound. (Both the 2007 and 2009 DVDs are notable improvements on the original 2002 Paramount release.) Casper, a professor at California's U.S.C., is appropriately knowledgeable and passionate about the film in his informative commentary. He also moderates A Night with the Hitchcocks, a 23-minute featurette in which he shares a panel with Alfred Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell (a frequent presence on Hitchcock-related DVDs and BDs) and granddaughter Mary Stone. Almost as good is a near 12-minute look at the more risqué elements of To Catch a Thief entitled Unacceptable Under the Code: Censorship in Hollywood. Hitchcock would challenged Hollywood's prevailing Production Code far more in the future on films such as Psycho, but this mini-documentary underlines just how much he pushed the envelope with the glamorous To Catch a Thief.
The 9-minute Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief covers some of the same territory as Unacceptable Under the Code, and it's also revisited in the more all-encompassing The Making of To Catch a Thief, although there's only so much ground this featurette can cover in its 17 minutes. Other features include a brief appreciation of the Grant/Kelly on-screen relationship, a look at how Hitchcock applied his personal stamp on the film (how didn't he?) and a tribute to Edith Head's work at Paramount Pictures including To Catch a Thief. Photo galleries, the original theatrical trailer and an interactive travelogue keyed to the film's scenes round out the bonus material. All told, not even counting Casper's commentary, there's over 90 minutes' worth of extras here, almost as long as the film itself. With the exception of the unfortunately excluded Bouzereau/Bogdanovich commentary, the BD commendably carries over the special features from previous DVD editions, so there might be no need to hold onto those if you've made the BD upgrade.
With Paramount having ceded ownership to the other Alfred Hitchcock films originally released under its imprimatur, including Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho, To Catch a Thief remains the studio's lone film by the noted auteur. It's fitting to see it given such fine treatment here. It's tempting to say "they don't make 'em like they used to," but the old adage certainly applies to this sophisticated romp with style, elegance, and, well, Grace!
- Joe Marchese